And so it came to pass that our dear friends Kat and Harris became engaged to be married. And it followed that we set forth to attend their wedding in Richmond, leaving Gainesville on Thursday afternoon, the seventeenth of November.
We traveled with our friend Kaitlyn, who we call “Canada”. We started later than we would have wished, but we all had last-minute errands that prevented us from departing at the ten o’clock hour we had agreed to the night before during a game of charades we played at the house Canada shares with another of our friends, Leslie. We stopped briefly for food in Starke, then ignored our hunger until we reached South Carolina. From there we drove on, through North Carolina and southern Virginia, arriving in Richmond some time around midnight. We had booked two nights at a bed and breakfast in the heart of the city, but our check-in there was not scheduled until the following afternoon, so, while on the road, Miriam booked us into the Holiday Inn next to Richmond International Airport. The Holiday Inn, as it turned out, was right next door to a hotel where Miriam and I stayed the year before on a trip to Washington.
The next morning we headed into the city so Miriam and Canada could meet up with Kat and the other bridesmaids for a lunch. While we stood in front of the restaurant on Harrison Street, we watched a driver attempting to park grind the side of his car against a steel post, reverse, then repeat the process. We gestured to him repeatedly in warning, to no avail.
While the ladies enjoyed their lunch, I explored a nearby city park. Monroe Park is handsome, with large, old trees, which, at the time, were in various stages of leaf-loss. Some were bare, some were orange or yellow, and still others, like the magnolias and conifers, were green. A sign informed me that Monroe Park, formerly Western Square, was home to the Virginia state fair in the 1850s, a Confederate hospital in 1864, and the site of the city’s first baseball games in 1866. Along Laurel Street, which forms the western boundry of the park, stand two impressive structures: the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, and the Landmark Theater. All through the neighborhood, Virginia Commonwealth University occupies old magnificent row houses. The variety of styles of the houses—built during the 1870s and 1880s, after Richmond was burned to the ground—is marvelous.
When I rejoined Miriam and Kaitlyn, we proceeded to our hotel, a lovely bed-and-breakfast on the corner of Grace and Meadow. The Grace Manor Inn, though once a boarding house, still posesses all its original ornate details, from the pocket doors to the fireplaces. And it is clear that this house was built for a very wealthy family, since those details are the fanciest of fancy. It isn’t simply that the rooms have crown molding, it is that those moldings are elaborately sculpted in a way that today could hardly be duplicated, but even at the time must have cost a fortune. Outside was a lovely garden, with a fountain and a sculpture, a greenhouse and a pool. We crossed our fingers that the pool might be heated, but alas, it was freezing cold. Still, we found the parking situation—a small private lot along the back alley—very convenient. Many an urban hotel charges extra for parking.
Kat and Harris were booked in a suite upstairs, but Canada, Miriam, and I were staying in the carriage house, which, as its name suggests, is an apartment above the garage that would have onced housed the family’s carriage. The operators of the Grace Manor Inn have decorated the carriage house in a conspicuously modern style, which, if a bit lackluster compared to the main house, still proved very functional. Indeed, the carriage house was extraordinarily generous in its amenities: a huge bedroom with attached bathroom, a living room with a couch and chair, and a large dining room and kitchen area complete with a washer and dryer. Kaitlyn had a small futon to sleep on, and Miriam and I had a huge bed – a bed, in fact, that was familiar to us, since we have the same one at home.
Friday evening Miriam was scheduled to attend the wedding rehearsal. That left Canada and me with some time to kill. She was looking to get an outfit to wear for the occasion, so we got in the car and headed to a neighborhood called Carytown, so-called because it is centered around Cary Street. This is, from what I could tell, a fashionable district, with many antiques shops and vintage clothing stores. And when I say vintage, in a couple cases I really mean vintage. I had been a little miffed that, in one “vintage” shop we went the day before, most of the clothing was from no earlier than the late 1990s, and virtually none of it was from the 1980s or before. But in Carytown we found a shop with racks of clothes from the 1940s through 1960s. If one were looking to procure costumes for a play set against the backdrop of the Second World War, head to Carytown. Meanwhile, Canada was looking for pants, and I was looking for a black belt to wear with my suit. I found one at a shop with the humorously unpretentious name, “Need Supply Company”. I quickly found a made in USA black belt, but I also found tables covered in the finest looking blue jeans I ever saw in my life. I cannot exaggerate how good these pants looked. And the quality looked to be extraordinary. The tags proclaimed them to be “CRAFTED by JEANSMITHS in NORTH CAROLINA” by the Raleigh Denim Company, which, of course, pleased me. I would surely have bought several, but the price per pair was around $200. But I had the belt I needed, and Kaitlyn and I continued down Cary Street. We dipped in a shoe store, which isn’t normally my thing, but they had a whole wall of New Balance, which is my preferred sneaker these days, having become familiar with their extraordinary comfort. The pair of New Balance I have been wearing for a while now are an attractive gray color, and quite casual, with none of the clutter one often sees on New Balance sneakers designed primarily for runners. This store, West Coast Kix, had a pair remarkably similar to the ones I was wearing. Unfortunately, they were not made in USA like my current pair. But they were made in England, and that’s good enough for me, so I bought them. Canada found some pants, and we made our way back to the hotel to get ready for the rehearsal dinner.
Big dinners have always made me a tad uncomfortable. For one, I don’t like meeting new people. And, of course, my discriminating taste makes many restaurants unappealing to me. When Kaitlyn and I arrived at Mekong Restaurant, on West Broad Street, we were a few minutes late. I spotted a long table with at least thirty people, and I assumed that was our party, but I lamented that I’d be squeezed in next to nobody I knew. I really didn’t recognize anyone. But that’s because it wasn’t our party. Ours was in a separate room, with several large round tables. I spied Harris, and gathered that the bridal party was not yet present. So we just chatted until they arrived, then took our seats. Happily, my table was inhabited by people I knew, or—in the case of Harris’s lovely sister and our dear friend Laura’s long-time boyfriend—had recently met. So we all had a fine time chatting and catching up. Amy, a psychologist and former Gainesville Roller Rebel, moved to Nashville some time ago to start her own practice and we had not seen her since. Laura (who, you may recall, has knitted me a fabulous cap, accompanied me to baseball games, gone with us to Disney World, and, in general, spent countless evenings watching television on our couch), moved to Providence last summer to work at Brown University, and has been sorely missed. Her boyfriend, who I had heard about for years, is a splendid fellow with a wonderful sense of humor. He kept me laughing constantly. Meanwhile, dinner guests made toast after toast to the couple, and we all enjoyed ice cream cake. Dinner ended quite late.
On Saturday morning, Kat and Harris, Kaitlyn, Miriam, and I all met downstairs for breakfast in the very fancy dining room at Grace Manor Inn. The meal consisted of several courses, concluding with a dessert. In fact, such a breakfast was served both mornings of our stay. Saturday, though, we were joined by Mel, another friend and Gainesville Roller Rebel who is a professional hairdresser. She had come all the way to Virginia to attend the wedding and do hair for Kat and her bridesmaids.
After breakfast, Miriam was occupied with wedding stuff, so Kaitlyn and I went on another quest: to get her some shoes, and me some bottled water. (We had set the thermostat too high the night before, and I felt like I was going to burst into flames all night, and it left me so thirsty.) Canada used the GPS on my phone to get us to a shopping center out in a suburban area of Richmond, and there we got all our errands done in one shopping center. Laura, who was doing bridesmaid stuff, had asked if Canda and I could pick up her boyfriend from his downtown hotel on our way to the ceremony. Kaitlyn, once again, used my phone to guide us there, navigating the many one-way streets.
We headed to Maymont Gardens, which is a large park on the north side of the James River. It is a beautiful place, even in late autumn. As you see in this photograph, Maymont has a stunning Ginkgo tree. We found Mel and her husband Cory when we arrived, and we walked around a while admiring the structures and the scenery before taking a tram on a fun ride to the site of the ceremony, beneath a rocky cliff, in front of a brook. The place looked rather like the Shire. A string quartet was playing when we reached the wedding site, and guests were standing about. We saw Harris, too, chatting with friends and family. I know the nervousness that plagues grooms as they await the appearance of their brides, and, after a while I noticed Harris was standing all by himself, looking terrified. He told me later he was alright, but he sure looked scared. Miriam, Laura, and Amy were in the bridal party, but Laura’s boyfriend, Mel and Cory, Kaitlyn, and Shannon Sisco, and I were all just there to watch.
Before Kat appeared in the arm of her father, we had seen some punk teens wandering around the rocks behind the wedding site. In fact, all of us thought we might have to go have a talk with them to tell them to get lost. Shortly after, we heard a commotion coming from the top of the cliff. I expected to look up and see some kids tumbling down. But it was a deer. It had slipped down, then scampered back up. But Kat arrived, looking lovely, and the ceremony went off without a hitch. Indeed, we kept remarking how perfect the weather was, and how wonderful the setting. As the newlyweds passed by, Harris gave one of his trademark thumbs-up.
As the wedding party disappeared for an hour or so of posed photographs, my companions and I traveled back up to the site of the reception. We stood around chatting, having a nice time, but all the while quite concerned by the appearance of another guest – a young man wearing a black suit and black leather gloves, holding a black briefcase. He was completely bald, and looked rather like a comic book villain. We badgered Shannon to go use her charms to see if she could find out what was in the briefcase, but he would reveal nothing. I thought that, perhaps, as the couple arrived, he might free some doves or butterflies, but that never happened. He just walked around with the briefcase, looking mysterious.
The bridal party finally did arrive, and when they had their first dance everyone stared, as is custom. There wasn’t much dancing besides that, but what the reception lacked in dancing it made up for in speeches. It is custom, of course, for weddings to have two speeches: from the best man, and from the father of the bride. But many couples, dispensing with tradition, invite a bridesmaid to say a few words, or some other relative or friend. Kat and Harris being the sort of people they are, could not restrict the speeches to just a chosen few. No, practically everyone who knew them wanted to tell all just how wonderful they are. The stories are true; Kat and Harris are splendid. But it was comical just how over-the-top the speech one-upmanship became. Initially, Harris was just a great guy and a great friend – one who made you always feel he was your best friend. I get that. Harris has a knack for connecting with people. But by the fourth or fifth speech, Harris is saving his friends from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean. Again, these stories are true, and anyone who knows Harris would not be at all surprise by such tales, but so nice are Kat and Harris that the speeches just went on and on, until at least ten people had spoken. Finally, time was up and the venue was closing. We’d have to leave.
We all met back at the carriage house, dressed in our street clothes. We had lots to talk and laugh about. The plan was to have two after-parties: one at a bar/arcade, the other at the home of a friend of Kat and Harris. We were assured that, at the early hour of nine o’clock at night, parking would not be an issue, nor would we have to pay a cover at the bar. That was just not the case. Parking in Richmond is hard to come by. Streets are crowded, and since many are one-way only, one has to be prepared to parallel park on the left side of the street. Not to sound boastful, but I can parallel park the hell out of a car. Still, left-side parallel parking was a challenge. We finally found a spot, and somebody negotiated a deal with the bar to let the wedding party in for free, provided we agreed to leave when the bands started to play. All our hands were marked with a large “W” to distinguish us from the regular bar folk. We all ate because we were starving, and it was cute to see Kat and Harris’s first meal as man and wife. Then the two played old school arcade games before we had to leave.
We parked back at the Grace Manor Inn and walked the three blocks down Grace Street to the home of one of Kat and Harris’s close Richmond friends. Inside, all the young wedding guests were there, but wearing normal people clothes. Even the mysterious briefcase guy was there. It turns out, he was just screwing with everybody. Nothing was in the case. We had brought Kat and Harris’s wedding cake (or what was left of it), which we had transported from Maymont Park, and everyone had another chance at some of that. Miriam and I, Canada, Laura and her boyfriend all sat on a couch in a large, mostly empty parlor. Kat came in after a while and we chatted some more with her. Then began a strange spectacle, but what that really defines Kat and Harris, and really all their close Richmond friends. Loud music could be heard from the dining room, then a crowd formed a huddle, singing Misfits songs at the top of their lungs. It’s their thing. We spectators watched for a moment, then let them to it. We walked back to Grace Manor, and said goodbye to Laura. Mel and Cory had gone, as had Amy and Shannon. The next morning we would leave, too.
But we still had one more breakfast in the elegant dining room, and it was an honor to spend it with the bride and groom the morning after their wedding. They would stay on at Grace Manor another night, so we hugged them goodbye and went back to the carriage house to pack. We made one more stop, at a little coffeeshop in a working class Richmond neighborhood to meet up with Sarah Jean, who moved from Gainesville to Richmond last summer. We chatted for an hour or so, while a hipster couple sat on a nearby porch, the fellow playing an acoustic guitar, his girlfriend looking at him admiringly. “That’s the dream”, I thought to myself. We bid Sarah Jean farewell and got on the road after noon on Sunday morning, the twentieth of November.
We had an epic misadventure in store. But that is for next time.
Filed under: Friends, Travel on December 27th, 2011 | No Comments »